Using Web-Customer Data

Customer data captured online can range from `basic registration information’ to details about navigation paths and the most-visited pages

Surgical Supply Service’s parent company adds Web buyers to its mailing list but keeps the data separate.

Approximately 70% of business-to-business catalogers spend up to 15% of their budgets on their Websites, according to I.MERCHANT’S 2000 Electronic Marketing Trends Report (see the June 2000 issue of I.MERCHANT). So it’s not surprising that some b-to-b catalogers are following through on the investment and making more extensive use of the buyer information captured online.

In some cases, the customer information b-to-b catalogers obtain online is Web specific and captured by cookies – data such as whether users are first-time visitors and which pages of the site they visit. Other information captured online is fairly standard data, and includes what types of companies customers work for and whether they’re ordering individually or for a particular business. Customers “volunteer” this information during registration or the ordering process.

Health products cataloger Landmark Direct asks online users several questions “to better identify customers and their trades,” says Paul DeMartinis, director of sales for the Tonawanda, NY-based multititle mailer that markets through the Medco Sports Medicine, Medco School First Aid, Medco Occupational Health & Medical Supplies, Masune First Aid & Safety, Surgical Supply Service, Turnkey, TimeWise, and ReadyMade catalog titles. “We capture `what industry?’ information to help us cultivate our online customers,” he adds.

The $50 million Landmark uses its customers’ information to determine future mailings: for instance, should a customer receive the Occupational Health specialty catalog instead of a general first aid catalog? “But overall, our data logs are used more for customer-specific situations rather than for our general mailing strategy,” DeMartinis says.

For example, many of Landmark’s online customers order via the Web during off hours. These are often school athletic coaches or trainers who return home late at night after a game to order a remedy for an injured player, DeMartinis says. These may be new customers, he says, because they’re placing emergency orders themselves – as opposed to the more routine orders their assistants or school administrative staffs place through Landmark’s Medco Sports Medicine catalog. So Landmark seizes the opportunity to place the coaches on its print mailing list to receive catalogs through the next bulk mailing.

Tailoring the message Conversely, online customers of industrial supplies cataloger Grainger are not automatically placed on the print mailing list, says vice president of marketing Steve Braun.

“Although we have a lot of customers online who already receive our catalogs, new Web customers have to request one,” Braun says, “because we want to make sure when we mail one out that it’s useful for them.” Perhaps more to the point, the catalog’s high production and mailing costs (the book runs to more than 1,000 pages) make the $900 million b-to-b cataloger more selective as to whom it mails its book.

Lake Forest, IL-based Grainger gathers what Braun calls “basic registration information” from users who sign on to the Website. The data includes whether the visitors are existing Grainger buyers so as to gauge overlap among the company’s channels.

The Hubert Co., an $85 million cataloger of supermarket display materials, uses data from Web users for e-mail promotions. “We’ve segmented our e-mail file so that when we capture an e-mail name, which in many cases is attached to an order, we try to tailor a message taking into consideration the person’s position at the business and what he’s bought from us,” says Andy Hallock, vice president of marketing for the Harrison, OH-based cataloger. “We may have a group of executives’ e-mail names, but we’re not going to send them all the same `save 10%’ offer.”

That’s pretty much all that Hubert does with the online data, Hallock says. Although its Web Trends reporting package collects information about users’ navigation paths and which pages are visited most frequently, Hubert doesn’t review the data logs with an eye to improving its Website navigation and tweaking its merchandising presentation. (For instance, if a significant portion of customers drilled straight to the produce rack pages, Hubert could consider highlighting the racks on its home page.)

“Besides, the nature of our customers – they’re from the food-service and retail-grocery businesses – isn’t high-tech in comparison to that of customers of other industries,” Hallock says, “although those who order online are more technical.”

Nashua, NH-based Delta Education, a cataloger of textbooks and teaching guides, does use the information it gathers from online users to fine-tune its product offerings. “Our Website is largely informational,” says vice president of sales and marketing Mary Ann Kleinfelter. “The site allows teachers to look at some of the information in our teacher guides and helps them make decisions when ordering from our print catalog.” But Delta Education’s data logs “aren’t very sophisticated yet,” she says. So for now, the Website is best for generating feedback from customers.

In fact, Kleinfelter says Delta Education plans to build online focus groups in which customers will share ideas for better product development. “E-mail has proved to be a very good way for us to communicate with our customers,” she says, because teachers, who spend their workdays in a classroom, aren’t easy to reach by phone or by print catalog.

Delta has also invested in an e-commerce solution from Oracle that, Kleinfelter says, should help the company “gather online information in a more sophisticated way so that we can use it more extensively for planning circulation.”

B-to-B Web Commerce to Hit $4.8 Trillion by 2004 Whether it comes in the form of business-to-business portals, electronic marketplaces, or traditional online catalogs, b-to-b e-commerce is expected to continue its rapid growth. A study by the Boston Consulting Group forecasts that b-to-b e-commerce will quadruple from $1.2 trillion in transaction value this year to $4.8 trillion by 2004.

Nearly half of the companies surveyed in the study say that some form of offline communication, such as print or field sales marketing, is needed to complement and drive online transactions. But as the b-to-b e-commerce market matures and less hand-holding is necessary – particularly in price-competitive industries – there will be less reliance on communication through other marketing channels, according to the report.